Name: Free Energy
Progress Report: Classic rock revivalists mine for FM Radio gold on Love Sign.
When Free Energy released their debut album — 2010’s Stuck On Nothing — on DFA, more than a few people were confused by it. While the breezy party vibe of the record jibed nicely with the label’s good time aesthetic, the decidedly classic rock sound of the record seemed oddly out of place coming from a dance-centric record label. And unlike a band like the Darkness, who seem to tow an almost invisible line between parody and seriousness, Free Energy are in no way trying to be ironic. If anything, Free Energy’s music is a sincerely heartfelt homage to a time when rock radio ruled the world and essentially provided a de facto soundtrack to everyone’s life (particularly if you owned a car or attended high school in the late ’80s). This spring the band will release Love Sign, a John Agnello-produced affair that takes the band’s love of bigger-than-big sounding radio pop to epic new heights.
STEREOGUM: Where are you right now?
PAUL SPRANGERS: I’m in Philly.
STEREOGUM: Nice. Well, I heard your new record was all done.
PS: Yep, we just finished mastering last week. I’m feeling very happy. Very psyched.
STEREOGUM: What can you tell me about making it?
PAUL SPRANGERS: We wrapped up touring last year and started writing in Philly at our practice space. We were still playing shows to pay the bills, but we were also writing a lot. Scott and I were demoing a lot. Some time in the summer our manager got to know John Agnello and we thought we’d try a song with him. You know, do a song and see if you get along and have the same sensibilities. We also did a song with a guy named Jeff Glixsman who recorded Kansas’s records — as in, “Dust in the Wind” — that Kansas. Anyway, he has a studio in Pennsylvania. We went up there and recorded a demo and he was great but we did another song with John and that went really well so we kept writing and by the end of summer had about twenty songs and started making a plan to do the record with John. We spent about a month or two of pre-production where John would come down to our space in Philly and hear us play the songs live and we’d make little adjustments. He’d sleep on our couch. So we did that for about two months and in October we went to Woodstock, where John has made a lot of records. He did the last Male Bonding record there, a lot of Dinosaur Jr stuff, stuff with The Breeders. While we were really excited about the indie stuff he’s worked on, we were even more so about his early records he worked on Cyndi Lauper, The Outfield and Hooters. He would tell us when he got his name working for Dinosaur Jr. in the ’90s that he basically had to hide that stuff since it wasn’t cool then. We were like, “Dude, that is what we want our record to sound like!” We were playing him stuff like Billy Ocean and INXS and he didn’t even blink, he was into it.
STEREOGUM: How long did you spend there?
PS: We were in Woodstock for a week and a half and then another two weeks at Headgear in Brooklyn, then another three or four doing additional recording in Hoboken.
STEREOGUM: It’s funny that you bring up all those big ’80s records. Obviously, lots of that stuff got referenced in response to your first album. It’s funny how much the cultural tide has changed when it comes to talking about that era of music. I always get kind of annoyed when people talk about loving a band like, say, Def Leppard for example, and pretending that it’s only an ironic enjoyment. Those were amazing records.
PS: There’s a reason why a lot of those records were the biggest in the world, whether it’s someone like Def Leopard or INXS, they were at the height of their careers and making these massive artistic statements. I know a lot of the older people were around when Rumours came out and seem to remember that it was shoved down their throats, so of course there’s backlash to it … and I’m sure there’s the same thing with those ’80s records. I think given time you can gain this perspective on them again. When that music was the constant backdrop to your childhood, sometimes it takes some distance to really be able to appreciate it.
STEREOGUM: Right, I feel like respect for those albums sort of skipped a generation.
PS: I grew up hearing Bon Jovi and Poison on the radio, which I loved, but in college I was listening to Pavement and Nirvana and now going back and hearing classic rock and realizing all the stuff that was shoved down our throats growing up was actually good. Stuff like Tom Petty or Phil Collins, I used to feel guilty about liking in college. Now I just love it.
STEREOGUM: It’s nice to see those people get their due from a different generation of music listeners. I’m curious, how did people react to you guys when you were playing last tour? I know you played lots of shows with lots of different kinds of bands.
PS: I still don’t know what our audience really is. don’t think we have any real sense of where we fit in. The label we were on even didn’t really know what to make of us. We are kind of oddballs at DFA. We’ll see with this new album where it takes us. It generally went over well on tour; the biggest tours we did were with Titus Andronicus, Mates of State and Foreign Born. With Titus we’d see about half of the audience get the connection and overlap between the bands, but we wouldn’t win over the punk side of their fans. Or we’d win over the Mates Of State crowd that liked the energy and melody side of the audience, but lose the ones who were really into the twee nature of that band. It was always surprising.
STEREOGUM: How does the new album compare to the last? Are you taking the classic FM Radio, power pop thing to the next level?
PS: Everything is much more defined; the sounds, performances and singing I really worked hard at it. I was able to take time to add harmonies to everything which I love doing. Like background vocals, Scott had time to really lay into the guitars and layer them. We had time to pick apart the drums to make them really clear and big. John was able to set us onto the road to the right aesthetic. We didn’t necessarily know that when we first started with him. He makes stuff that sounds really big. The stuff he cut his teeth on was like the Boss and Cyndi Lauper, working under like Jimmy Iovine and such. I’d also say there are way more like dance songs on this one. INXS and Peter Gabriel were a big influence. We take a lot of production inspiration from artists like that.
STEREOGUM: What will the rest of the year be like for your guys? When will the record be out?
PS: We’re trying to figure that out right now. We’re not sure where it’s going to come out. It will definitely be out late spring, but we’re kind of doing it old school. We’ll put out a single first and play some shows. We’re taking baby steps. With the last record, I think we didn’t start small enough … I mean, who knows. We’ll put it out and we’ll play a lot of shows and see what happens.
Love Sign is out soon.